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How Billy made Papal sermons a hit record

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 20/02/2016

Billy McBurney
Billy McBurney
Shiver me timbers: Clara Paget is set to star in Black Sails on the History Channel
Wonderful voice: Gene Stuart

One of record producer Billy McBurney's claims to celebrity was the album he produced in his studio at Smithfield in Belfast of the speeches Pope John Paul II made during his tour of the Republic in 1979. The vinyl LP is a collector's item today as my old friend Billy, who has died at 84, is mourned.

If the present Pontiff makes a search at the Vatican, he will come across a gold disc bearing the Outlet label. Way back 37 years ago, the record was delivered to His Holiness John Paul by Billy, then boss at Outlet, and Billy later received a note of thanks from the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Pope's album, masterminded by Outlet engineer, the late Cel Fay - once one of Phil Coulter's group The Gleemen - sold well among Ireland's Catholics. And so it should have done - I wrote the sleeve notes.

What I didn't know at the time, of course, was the story of Pope John Paul's friendship with a married woman.

Mr McBurney had handpicked a squad of sound recordists to follow Pope John Paul around Ireland that September 1979 to tape his every word. They were there at Drogheda, Galway, Knock, Limerick and St Patrick's College in Maynooth and in Phoenix Park where 1.25m Irish folk - one third of the Republic's population - gathered to catch a glimpse of his Holiness and listen to his sermon.

All the recordings were couriered back to Belfast where Cel Fay produced the unique album in the little studio that was then based in Smithfield Square.

Profits from the disc provided music education for under-privileged children.

Billy, born in Durham Street, Belfast, was a man with certain political views all of which were dedicated to peace and tranquillity in the province he loved.

That is why one of his favourite hymns was All On An April Evening which he heard for the first time when Ballyclare Male Voice Choir sang it for one of their albums.

Billy's remarkable career was launched in a back room of St Mary's Hall in Bank Street where he opened his first studio and where choirs and artists of all denominations and none were welcome to lay down their words and music.

It's plain sailing for pirate girl Clara

Clara Paget (27) is back as a ship's mate in the fourth series of Black Sails, the drama about piracy on the high seas, that runs on Sky's History Channel until March 26. This actress - her dad is artist Charles Paget, the 8th Marquess of Anglesey - plays Anne Bonny aboard the Colonial Dawn with Toby Schmitz as her captain, Jack Rackham.

Clara's grandfather, George Charles Henry Victor Paget, who died at 90 in 2002, came from a family of distinguished soldiers. This prompted him to write a history of the British Cavalry, the first volume of which was published in 1973. It took him 25 years to write all eight volumes.

Clara herself may one day write a history of her own, based on the Paget family.

Talented country star who will be sadly missed

The quiet man of country music, Gene Stuart, has passed away at 72. The one time photographer who changed careers to forge a musical one, last week lost a long battle with cancer. "I have also lost a true friend and Ireland a great artist," says Big T Trevor Campbell, the Downtown Radio presenter. 

Gene, who recorded hit songs on his own Rainbow label in Dungannon where he and his brother Raymond also had a music and record shop, was "a perfect gentleman," recalls U105 Radio presenter Ivan Martin. "He was the strong silent type who disliked showbiz trappings. He wasn't in country music for the glory. He simply liked to sing nice ballads and make people happy."

Two of the Stuart favourites were Before The Next Teardrop Falls and Sing The Blues To Daddy. He recorded both numbers in his studio in Dungannon, a former cow shed he rebuilt. He sang with the Mighty Avons and The Homesteaders.

He is survived by wife Briege, children Barry, Karen and Colin and six grandchildren.

Opera will sing praises of Belfast

Belfast is about to have its very own opera. A project to record the history and ambition of this old town has gone to Belfast Buildings Trust and the libretto and music will be by Glenn Patterson and Neil Martin.

"Seville has Carmen and Rome has Tosca, so now Belfast has an opportunity to show off its musical and historical credentials," says Trust development manager Shane Quinn. The opera will have a chorus of 120, drawn from choirs across the city, and a set and costumes designed by young Belfast folk.

Belfast City Council is helping with the cost of the ambitious production, but an additional £60,000 is still required. Donations to Belfast Buildings Trust at The Gate Lodge, 511a Ormeau Road, Belfast BT7 3GS.

Castleward event will run and run

More than 130 runners, male and female, are out this very day taking part in a unique Ultra-Marathon event at Castleward Country Park.

They will be pacing themselves every hour on a 4.2 mile loop in this test of endurance promoted by brothers Adrian and Sammy Daye of Atlas Running.

The winners will be the last man and the last woman standing in a contest staged here for the first time.

"The aim of each competitor is to finish each 4.2 mile loop inside an hour and be at the start again on the hour every hour until there is only one of each sex left," explains Sammy.

"The first loop should provide no difficulties, but how many will be able to keep going for 48 hours with little rest in between? Most will drop out at some stage along the way. It will be an exciting spectacle."

Roses are red but his lady is blue

And so to a sad story. On Valentine's Day last Sunday in a crowded Tesco store I was bumped into accidentally by a woman in her early 40s. 

So we chatted about how February 14 is the most romantic day of the year. But it all went horribly wrong when she told me she hadn't got a bunch of flowers (or a kiss) from the man in her life before he left for work. And she couldn't hide the tears that welled up in her pretty eyes. I'm sure he simply didn't remember the date as he left that morning. I hope her man arrived home with a bouquet of roses. She deserved nothing less.

Did I present the woman who shares my life with a Valentine's bouquet? You need hardly ask - of course I did.

Belfast Telegraph

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